Steelers notebook: Center’s return reason to smile



Less than nine months after a knee injury ended his 2013 season, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey lined up with the first-team offense Tuesday morning on the first day of voluntary spring workouts at their South Side training facility.

Pouncey, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the Sept. 8 season opener against Tennessee, said he does not have any restrictions with his training and pronounced himself “full go” for the rest of the offseason regimen.

“It was a big step,” Pouncey said.” For the coaches to see it, for my teammates to see it, for me, myself, to see it, it was pretty cool.”

Pouncey, the first center in NFL history to be named to the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons to start his career, was a big loss for the Steelers last season. Without him, they had to abandon the outside zone-blocking scheme that they had worked on the entire offseason.

Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace filled in admirably the rest of the season, but Pouncey has natural ability those two players do not possess.

“He’s a comfort blanket,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “And he’s a leader of this team and a leader of the offensive line. It’s just good to see him out there because he’s a football player and he loves the game.”

“It was good to have him out there,” starting left guard Ramon Foster added. “He was ecstatic about it. It was a good vibe for us. He’s ahead of schedule. He knows it. As far as his movement and what he was doing, I was shocked.”

Pouncey said his knee started to feel much better in March. He stayed in Pittsburgh for most of the offseason to rehabilitate and work out in the weight room. The most difficult part of the rehab was getting over the emotional hurdles, he said.

“I think it was more mental than anything, getting your confidence back and feeling that you can go out and do it,” he said. “The physical part is all done with the doctors, and they did a great job. A month and a half, two months ago, I started feeling really great, especially in the weight room.

“To come out here on the football field and do it is awesome. It was pretty neat to go out there and drive-block guys and finish on some plays.”

For Pouncey, it was a small first step. In offseason training activities, players wear helmets but no other pads and there is no live tackling. The biggest challenges will come at training camp in July and the August preseason games when he is faced with live practice sessions and game competition.

As for the hit that ended his season, Pouncey did not want to rehash the incident. Right guard David DeCastro, who was attempting to throw a cut block on a Tennessee defender, accidentally caved in Pouncey’s knee instead.

“I’ve never been hit by that,” he said. “He wiped me out. It was all an accident. I’m leaving that in the past. I don’t even want to think about it.”

Blount learning new system

Running back LeGarrette Blount, who signed as a free agent in March, is getting to know his teammates and the playbook. He said the system is much different from the ones he played at Tampa Bay and New England, where he gained 772 yards and scored seven touchdowns last season.

“You definitely have to learn the blocking schemes and who you’re reading off of,” Blount said. “After that, it becomes instinctive.”

Blount said he has not been told how the Steelers will use him, but he is accustomed to being a change-of-pace back off the bench. That was the role he played with the Patriots last season.

“It won’t be different at all because me and [Stevan] Ridley did the same thing,” he said. “It will be fun. I’ll be excited to see how it goes. Hopefully, we can do some good things.”

Quick hits

OTAs are voluntary, but only two starters failed to practice Tuesday. Safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor were not there. Polamalu has shown up for OTAs only intermittently in the past during his career. He prefers to train in California during the offseason. … The starting receiver opposite Antonio Brown for the first practice session was Markus Wheaton, the third-round draft pick last year. “There are a lot of us chasing that spot,” Wheaton said. “It’s not mine. There’s a lot of good competition.”… Roethlisberger said the implementation of the no-huddle offense, which was so successful in the second half of last season, will be up to Wheaton and receiver Lance Moore because they willhave to be up to speed with the rest of the offense. … The Steelers signed two more draft picks Tuesday — fifth-round selection Wesley Johnson, an offensive lineman from Vanderbilt, and sixth-round choice Jordan Zumwalt, a linebacker from UCLA. Last week, they signed sixth-round pick Daniel McCullers and seventh-round pick Rob Blanchflower.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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